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April 30, 2014

An Agent's Take

How a Player Picks a Team

by Joshua Kusnick

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Joshua Kusnick is an MLBPA-certified agent who periodically writes about his experiences representing professional players. You can subscribe to his podcast on iTunes, and reach him via email at JoshuaKusnick@aol.com and on Twitter @JoshuaKusnick.

We’re not even a month into the 2014 season, but I’ve already experienced many of the positive and negative aspects of representing professional baseball players: great starts, slow starts, free agency, club complaints, crushing releases, and signing and scouting new clients. Today I’m going to go over a process not often discussed from my side of the table: being designated for assignment, becoming a free agent, and choosing a new team.

During the first week of the season, one of my clients, Jeremy Jeffress, was designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue for the second time in two years. Jeremy cleared waivers last year, and because that was his first designation, he (like all players on the 40-man roster) did not have the right to elect free agency. The second time a player is designated for assignment, the club has seven days to trade or place the player on waivers, and 10 days in total to complete the waiver process. If the player goes unclaimed the second time, he has the collectively bargained right to become a free agent or accept the minor-league assignment for either his full MLB salary (if he has a guaranteed deal) or his Triple-A negotiated salary. The contract negotiations that determinate which rate he receives are completed prior to the season.

Generally, if a player with MLB service is designated for a second time, I advise him to seek work elsewhere, barring some special circumstance. I think the Blue Jays are a first-class organization, and I work with them often, but in this instance, Jeremy and the club just didn’t click, no matter how badly each side genuinely wanted to work out with the other.

What was hard for the Blue Jays and any other club that wanted to claim Jeremy off waivers—and I know there were several—is that Jeremy is out of options, meaning a team has to carry him on the 25-man roster or risk exposing him to waivers (and free agency) by sending him to the minor leagues. One strange thing did occur in this instance, however. As a rule, a team cannot designate a player unless they have a full 40-man roster. If a team has 39 players on their 40 man, that club would have to add a player to the roster, then make the corresponding designation. In this case, Toronto added Marcus Walden to the roster and lost him off waivers in addition to Jeremy, so I was a little confused about why Jeremy was designated in the first place. Sadly, Toronto lost both players for essentially nothing, which had to be tough.

In addition, any team that claims a player off waivers or signs a player without options to a minor-league deal knows full well that it’s 25-man roster or bust. In the case of a waiver claim or trade, that’s obvious, but when they sign a free agent without options, the team knows that once they promote him, they likely will have to keep him up all year if they want to retain him.

Something fans generally do not know is that any player who elects free agency is taking a massive pay cut. First, the minor-league season ends one month earlier than the major-league season, so that’s one less pay check if the player is not called back up to the majors. Second, most every club has a pay scale for their non-40-man players, so by electing free agency, you know going in that you’re taking a big cut no matter where you land. However, money in the minor leagues should never be the be-all and end-all. Opportunity and the chance to pick where you play in hopes of reaching the big leagues fastest plays a more important role. I’ve advised some clients in this situation to take less money to get hooked up with a team that has a reputation for "fixing" players at their position. All of this brings me to Jeremy’s situation.

Once Jeremy hit free agency, an insane bidding war erupted in which at least 20 teams contacted me regarding his services. However, considerations beyond money and baseball came into play. Normally you look for the best opportunity to get back to the big leagues, plus the highest salary, but in this case familiarity with the Brewers organization trumped anything any other club could offer, much to the other contenders’ chagrin. In my opinion, Milwaukee has the best support system for Jeremy, and that’s not something that any other club could compete with. Add in the opportunity to reach the majors fairly quickly if he plays well, plus the club’s financial fairness, and the decision was clear.

Before deciding on which club to sign with, we did narrow down our list of teams to the three or so that fit Jeremy best. Given the totality of the circumstances, Jeremy and I felt that the Brewers were the best fit for him on and off the field, and they offered another thing that we craved: stability.

There was also a genuine sense of unfinished business in Milwaukee. When he was traded in 2010 in the Zack Greinke deal, Jeremy was the last player to be named, and I know Milwaukee did not want to lose him. So the chance to go back to the team that drafted him and knows him, with whom he won a minor league player of the year award and his first MLB game, was just too much to pass up. I cannot stress enough how much it meant to be reunited with the Brewers front office staff—men like Reid Nichols, Tony Diggs, Doug Melvin and Gord Ash. These men all stood by Jeremy during the darkest periods of his career and never lost faith in him or turned their back on him.

For anyone who’s unaware of Jeremy’s struggles off the field, please Google the subject, since I as his agent can’t get into that topic out of respect for the player. I think most readers here know what the issues he faced with Milwaukee were, and that is part of why he wanted to be reunited with the club. The men I’ve already mentioned—especially Reid Nichols and Gord Ash—all stuck by his side and allowed him to continue his career when they easily could have turned their back on him. That, plus the fact that four years later the club wanted to reacquire Jeremy in spite of his off-the-field hiccups, certainly engendered a lot of loyalty on our end.

Despite all the benefits Milwaukee offered, it was an incredibly hard choice for Jeremy to make, and had it been anyone else, that player likely would have signed elsewhere. Jeremy almost did, but in the end he decided that there was no place like home.

Another intriguing possibility was heading overseas. Japan was a legitimate option, where Jeremy could have made significant money. Korea has changed their rules to allow more foreign players and abolished their salary cap in hopes of competing against Japan for international talent. I feel that Jeremy is too young to uproot his family and change cultures while he still has a bright future in the US thanks to his skillset and who he is as a person. He could have taken the instant payday and run, but I think it says something about his desire to chase his dream that he turned down the huge payday and took a pay cut by electing free agency.

Saying no to front-office officials with whom you have a relationship is hard, but agents have a responsibility to do what is in their client’s best interests. In the end, though, the client always has the final say, and I think that given the circumstances, Jeremy made a good decision for himself and his family. He has a shot at redemption in the truest sense of the word, but as always, time will tell.

Joshua Kusnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joshua's other articles. You can contact Joshua by clicking here

Related Content:  Milwaukee Brewers,  Jeremy Jeffress

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

SaberTJ

This was a great, informative piece.

Apr 30, 2014 05:23 AM
rating: 3
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thank you been slammed all day sorry for being so late

Apr 30, 2014 17:08 PM
rating: 0
 
bhacking

I wasn't aware of the need to have a full 40 man roster. I assume this is why guys with serious injuries are first put on the 15 day disable list instead of immediately going to the 60 day DL, the club is going to wait until they need to make another move?

Apr 30, 2014 05:55 AM
rating: 2
 
Joshua Kusnick

Yes sir. Little known mlb rule the public isnt aware of but all teams should

Apr 30, 2014 17:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

What do you mean by a "club's financial fairness", Joshua? A good initial offer? A prior history of dealing fairly in $$$$ terms with its minor leaguers?

Apr 30, 2014 08:32 AM
rating: -1
 
Joshua Kusnick

I meant making an actual fair offer. Theres no hidden meaning there

Apr 30, 2014 17:09 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Could you give us a real example of a club that's 'good at fixing players at such-and-such a position'? I'd like to better know exactly what you mean by that, Joshua.

Apr 30, 2014 08:36 AM
rating: -1
 
Joshua Kusnick

Well if i have a pitcher and team x has a reputation for correcting mechanical flaws or improving players that have been up and down to the big leagues that destination would be more desirable than others obviously

Apr 30, 2014 17:11 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

I'm also curious about the "club complaints" part, Joshua. Seems to me that, if I have Joe Outfielder in my organization and he's being lazy/partying really heartily/treating his fellow human beings with all the graciousness of Barry Bonds/whatever behavioral problem, I first take it up with him.

Are "club complaints" typically what they think are behavioral problems from one of your clients? Do they sometimes come to you first regarding those, or is it most always "hey, Joe's paying no attention to us, so now you try"?

Apr 30, 2014 08:44 AM
rating: -1
 
Joshua Kusnick

Just team officials calling me if players are struggling at all levels on or off the field

Apr 30, 2014 17:13 PM
rating: 0
 
David Sullivan

More articles like this, please.

Apr 30, 2014 08:44 AM
rating: 4
 
Joshua Kusnick

Sure

Apr 30, 2014 17:13 PM
rating: 0
 
jkaflagg

Terrific article, many details I did not know about the process. Also appreciate the fact that Joshua also clearly cares about helping his clients as opposed to simply following the path of greatest $$$$; too often agents are lumped together as greedy parasites just looking to milk their clients (and some are), but most serve their clients with compassion and professionalism.

Apr 30, 2014 13:04 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thank you for the compliment. I work very hard to serve my clients best interests. I know this sounds canned but i love my clients and all are a part of my family. I had a 2013 mlb pitcher fire me after six years and it sucked but anyway i ran into him rehabbing and now hes off the roster and in aa struggling to stay healthy and even though he fired me for reasons unknown we spoke like old times and i genuinely felt horrible for him working six years to get to the show only to have it ripped away a year later. Just a bad situation all around.

Apr 30, 2014 17:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

I also dropped a high 2013 draft pick when i heard he was interviewing other agents. I did a great job for him 5 endorsements and he still wasnt happy. As an agent you know you wont keep a player with that makeup no matter how hard you work. Its never enough. I hope whoever he hires next enjoys the experience.

Apr 30, 2014 17:23 PM
rating: 0
 
elatedscum

really interesting and insightful article

Apr 30, 2014 18:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thanks for reading

May 01, 2014 14:28 PM
rating: 0
 
gpurcell

These are awesome articles. Thank you!

May 01, 2014 08:59 AM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Any time. I enjoy writing them and talking to fans.

May 01, 2014 14:29 PM
rating: 0
 
brucegilsen
(999)

Thanks, this was a very interesting look under the hood.

May 01, 2014 17:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Joshua Kusnick

Thanks

May 04, 2014 17:56 PM
rating: 0
 
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